FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) – With a turn of his head or his body, a Creekside Elementary School second-grader was able to see a 360-degree view of the Arctic tundra in front of him.
Eight-year-old Cohen Tilley was able to study the geography of Antarctica, including the South Pole and an explorer’s cabin from 1908, through new technology Google is testing out.
Google chose schools in Franklin and Clark-Pleasant for a pilot project called Google Expeditions Pioneer Program, where students hold a phone in a Google Cardboard viewer up to their eyes, which acts as a first-person camera. The new technology allows students to look up and down, and spin to get a 360-degree view of a location, as if they were visiting in person.
Teachers could choose from more than a dozen destinations. Creekside teacher Carole Parker chose a trip to Antarctica for her second-grade students since they just finished reading “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” she said.
Students could see a boat in the icy water, penguins on a rock and other explorers and researchers who were actually in Antarctica.
“It felt like I was touching an actual penguin when I saw them,” 7-year-old Alexandria Hurley said.
The technology Google is testing could eventually be used by teachers on a daily basis. Ten states have piloted the program so far, including Indiana. The program also is being tested in cities in Brazil, Singapore, Denmark and Canada. Schools had to apply for the pilot project with at least six teachers interested in taking their students on a virtual trip. Schools with the most interested teachers were picked first, according to the Google Expeditions website.
For teachers, the pilot program gave their students a chance to experience a classroom subject first-hand and learn about a topic outside of reading from a textbook.
Teachers could use an iPad to circle important features they wanted students to notice. For example, Creekside teacher Sarah Records visited Antarctica in 2012, so she drew a circle around a group of penguins on the 360-degree image, taught the students about the types of penguins she saw in person, then circled a boat that is used to cut through the icy waters.
Creekside third grade teacher Kathy McGriff wanted to tie in social studies with the unique technology, so her class visited U.S. monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, Mount Rushmore and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Nearly all of McGriff’s students have never visited the landmarks before, so the project allows them to see the monuments up close without ever leaving their classroom, she said.
McGriff is teaching her students about Midwestern monuments in class, and the Google experience showed students more than just the ones they’ve been learning about in class, she said.
Seventh-grade students at Clark-Pleasant Middle School could virtually visit a tower along the Great Wall of China.
Typically, Clark-Pleasant social studies teacher Kristin Getchell waits until March or April to teach her students about why the Great Wall of China was built, how long it took to build and how long the wall stretches. But since it was one of the options for the Google Cardboard viewers, her students could actually see the hilly land on either side of the Great Wall of China and imagine how difficult it would have been for people to build, she said.